It is galling to realise so many former MPs are still claiming up to 90 per cent of the cost of air travel for themselves and their spouse from the taxpayers. Have they no shame? They know how the public views this perk, that is why it was withdrawn in 1999. They continue to enjoy it because they could possibly claim a breach of contract if it was cancelled.
None have threatened such a claim, at least publicly. None would relish the sorry spectacle the claim would produce in a court of law. Doubtless it would win, the lifetime travel perk was in the MPs' remuneration package from 1972, coincidentally the year that two of this year's top five claimants, Sir Kerry Burke and Michael Bassett, entered Parliament. They were among a number of keen, young Labour MPs who came in with the Kirk Government. They would have hotly denied at that time any suggestion that the pay and perks were among the reasons they were pursuing a political career.
They would have been right then and wrong now if they or their contemporaries claimed otherwise for the sake of retaining the travel perk. The notion that anyone goes into Parliament for the money is a fiction of popular conversation. Sadly it is fiction reinforced by those MPs from last century who continue to treat subsidised air travel as their entitlement.
Together they cost the taxpayer $703,000 in the past year, which is not a large amount but it is the principle that matters. MPs should honour a high code of public expectations even after they leave Parliament. When they know a perk has met with public disfavour and has been abandoned by their successors, they should forfeit it and pay their own way like everyone else.
Their collective claims in the latest year total a little less than the previous year, which was the first time the Parliamentary Service had released the figures. Possibly the exposure is beginning to discourage claims. Few would want to be featured among the five highest claimants we published yesterday. Besides Burke and Bassett, they were former National MPs John Luxton , Sir Lockwood Smith and Roger Maxwell.
The more publicity we give this perk, the less it might be used in future and the sooner we might be rid of it.
Otherwise, it will survive for as long as the generation of MPs who sat during the period 1972-99, and they include 10 who are still in Parliament: Peter Dunne, Ruth Dyson, Bill English, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Murray McCully, Damien O'Connor, Winston Peters, Nick Smith and Maurice Williamson. All have served five or more terms, which gives them and their spouse the maximum 90 per cent rebate on air travel expenses, with an annual cap at the equivalent of a return business-class fare to London or 12 domestic return flights a year.
While MPs are serving, they can take unlimited flights around the country at no cost to themselves, which nobody seriously opposes. It is important that elected representatives are able to get to and from Wellington frequently and freely. But those who supposed it was a life-long right should let it go.